Belgium last night lowered the terror threat alert in Brussels from the maximum level of four to level three, despite ongoing concerns over security, including an anthrax scare at the city’s main mosque.
The capital had been locked down at the highest alert level, for “serious and imminent” threats, since Saturday morning, with schools, universities and the metro closed until Wednesday morning. But Belgium’s threat analysis committee, Ocam, said it could be reduced to three, which characterises threats as “possible and probable”.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that although the threat level had fallen, soldiers would still remain on guard at key points across Brussels. “The threat is still serious, but it is not as imminent,” he said.
The change comes despite questions about safety, with Brussels-born Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam still at large. Police raided homes in two towns in southern Belgium, near the French border, yesterday: one in Auvelais, close to Charleroi, and two in Verviers, where a major raid took place in January, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Neither raid led to any arrests.
It also emerged that Abdeslam’s alleged accomplice Mohamed Abrini was helping to set up a women’s hairdressing salon in Molenbeek that was next door to the apartment of Ayoub El-Khazzani, who in August attempted to shoot passengers on a high-speed train between Paris and Brussels before being overcome. However, the salon never opened, its registered name Tamimi was inactive, and it had accumulated some €10,000 in debt.
Meanwhile, Italian authorities yesterday seized a shipment of 781 pump-action shotguns destined for Belgium from Turkey. Customs officials swooped after the Winchester SXP weapons were transferred from a ship on to a lorry driven by a Turkish national at the north-east port of Trieste. Customs could not confirm any links to terrorist groups.